John’s preaching in the desert had a great impact upon people. He was indeed at work in the midst of a significant political confrontation, telling tax collectors to refrain from creaming off an extra impost from tax-payers for themselves, instructing soldiers to cease their agitation for more pay and to treat people with kind respect. He had even made it clear that God’s law was violated by adultery, even when such conduct is arranged within a royal house.
And John’s ministry was also deeply personal for those convicted by it, and with him in prison and his days numbered, some of his disciples had become disciples of Jesus, the Lamb of God who, John had said, has been sent to take away the sin of the world. They wanted to keep praying in the same way that John had initiated, making personal and intimate their ongoing contact with the God of Israel.
Lord, teach us to pray!
Jesus met the request, Luke tells us. [Matthew included the same prayer in the record of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6)]. It was, we should note, the prayer, the outline of a prayer, that was given in response to his disciples’ request. They prayed to him about their need to be taught, their need to be taught how to pray.
Jesus instructs his disciples to address God, the Creator, the One who has made and directs all things from where he is, in his place of residence, as Father – that is who he is – the Father from whom all humankind gain their identity. They are to call upon him as Father, as their own Father,willingly acknowledging their intimate dependence upon him, and receiving the truly good news that just as they are here in this family for him, so he is Father for them. And this recognition of paternal favour is to be maintained in an attitude of holy respect, respect for the holy and sacred nature of the relationship he maintains with them, the Holy Name he gives himself as Father of his children. To respect God our Father is to ascribe honour to him for the fact that Jesus’ disciples live with his surname as their own.
Just a little earlier, in Luke’s narrative (10:21-22), we read Jesus’ intimate prayer to his Father, a communication from a heart overflowing with thanks that his disciples could share in his work, since they are completely dependent upon the Son for their knowledge of the Father (10:22). And here in answer to their prayer, Jesus brings his disciples into the circle of his prayer, his intimate communication with the Father.
The Older Testament’s witness to God’s reliable goodness to his people, is particularly focused upon the first five books, the Torah. Genesis begins an amazing record of how Israel’s heavenly Father, the same Creator of heaven and earth whose will had been egregiously defied by his inaugural office-beers, our first parents, began the long historical project of weaning his fallen image-bearers (a term that also has a familial referent) from an innate tendency toward idolatrous fertility religion on the one hand, and a nihilistic, fear-filled worship of death and destruction on the other. Such were the ways inherited from a rebellion borne deep within from the fall into sin. In such circumstances humans needed to be reassured that God indeed still extends his loving compassion “as a father to his children.” (Psalm 103:13).
God, our Father, is a King, the King of those following God’s Son, and he is actually working through the life of his Son and through all those aligned with him, to bring his rule to fulfilment. He indeed is no passive despot, sitting in some distant palace contemplating his own grandeur. His grandeur, his will, his purpose, is that this rule to come in its own time fully into its own, fully into full view so that all the world in every corner will simply magnify the Lord.
Jesus taught his disciples that they are to be content and to tell their King, their Heavenly Father, that they are living with the desire that this purpose, this will, be played out in full in their own lives as much as the lives of all others and every creature! Jesus encourages his disciples to confide in their Father and tell him that they are wanting their lives to be part of the story of God’s Kingly Rule, a rule that is as much on and over the earth as it completely dominates heaven.
And as his disciples – whether lined up in the queue at the cafe’s cashier, sitting waiting for one’s fish ‘n chip order to be called, seating yourself in the aged-care dining room waiting to be served, as they unwrap their sandwiches or prepare their noodles at lunch break, or as they give thanks with their families at the evening meal – they were indeed taught to see themselves as waiting for God to answer their prayer:
Give us each day our daily bread…
And then – as it were wile they are chewing and swallowing their meal – Jesus reminds them of just how completely dependent they are upon God’s bounty, and hence are so living off the bounty of their neighbours, bound that they may have presumed to take without leave to do so, or if it were freely given without thanks and a failure to reciprocate. And this petition, reminding us of so much more of God’s word, is an essential part of the antidote to a life of perpetual ingratitude and disrespect.
Father, we are in debt to you and to others
Jesus reminds his disciples that they need to be upfront with their requests of their Father to forgive the debts they have incurred and thereby to be what they are assuming in their prayer, to be image-bearers of the Lord of Mercy, and so to extend forgiveness to those who are in their debt.
The prayer as it is given to us in Luke’s account (compare with Matthew 6:9-13) tells us that Jesus concludes the prayer with a petition that reckons with the Father’s ability to have his children tested. Luke has already given us Jesus’ answer to the prosecuting Satan in his desert-time trial (4:12). As well, when he gives us his account of Jesus’ time of trial in Gethsemane the same word – temptation/ trial/ testing [PEIRASMON] is used. The term “lead us” suggests the guidance and active supervision of a Shepherd who knows the path to safe pasture.
Lord, you know where we are headed …
With all due respect to your power, Lord, don’t allow us to be herded into great trial.
Some paths are treacherous indeed. Jesus recommended prayer is full of good news. His disciples are to face up to the fact that they are not as strong as they might like themselves to be.
In the Matthew version of the prayer, this concluding petition in rendered in poetic form common in the Psalms where one statement is added to another by saying the same thing and adding clarification.
deliver us from evil
rescue us from becoming party to the designs of the evil one.
And with John’s life just ended, of just about to be, this is how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, teaching them just as John had done for his disciples.